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Audit: Portland Police Bureau wrongfully collected data on protesters

Racial Injustice Protests Lawsuit
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
FILE - In this July 28, 2020, file photo, a member of the "Wall of Moms" protest group marches with other demonstrators during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A city audit is critical of the way the Portland Police Bureau collected and stored surveillance information regarding racial justice protests in 2020.

Auditors said police collected information about protesters who were not connected to any crimes, and kept some private information for too long, KGW-TV reported.

The audit was launched after Black Lives Matter protesters expressed concern that the police bureau was gathering information that could violate their civil rights. The report concluded that some concerns were unfounded — like the rumor that police were spying on people from aircraft — but others were warranted.

“The concerns that were brought to our attention and prompted us to do this audit were valid,” said Mary Hull Caballero, auditor for the City of Portland.

Portland auditors reviewed 73 police and Criminal Intelligence Unit reports related to racial justice protests in the summer of 2020 — a sample of more than a total of 1,500 reports.

Chris Bushick, director of PDX Privacy — an organization surveyed by auditors as part of the report — said the lack of guidelines is the reason people are calling for a city surveillance ordinance.

“You shouldn’t have your name, photo and license plate number in a secret database just because you stood on a corner holding a sign,” Bushick said.

The auditor’s office recommended policies and guidance on which private information can be collected by PPB, how long that information should be kept in police files, and how the bureau should report its use of surveillance technology.

Chief Chuck Lovell said the findings are under review and all bureau members will be trained on the changes. Mayor Ted Wheeler said he’ll work to enact all of the audit recommendations to support privacy protections of citizens.

Some of the information collected during the 2020 protests could still be in the police records that shouldn’t be there, Hull Caballero acknowledged.

“I don’t know if they purged that out of the system or not,” she said.

Among the information collected without documenting criminal activity, auditors said police officers took photos and videos of protesters and organizers, recorded license plate information, and saved images from social media posts.

The report said the Bureau had “no instructions for officers specific to investigating criminal activity during protests,” meaning officers used their own discretion to decided “how and what type of information to collect.”

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